Sunday, March 22, 2009

Final Thoughts

It's all over, and I am home; safely. And what a journey it has been! The ride was far more dangerous and more difficult than I ever imagined, and riding along the Esplanade in Melbourne was not the greatest of preparation. There were some very fit and fast riders in our group, with whom I never had a chance to keep up with, but that was OK; I knew my limitations. Had I just decided to take up bike riding, and join a group of riders in Vietnam, I would not have been up to standard. But this was a ride for Parkinson's so I make no apology for my lack of speed. My fitness certainly improved before and during the ride. This was a personal Challenge for everyone, and though I may not have rode all day, every day, I feel that I exceeded my expectations in riding. I rode every twice a day. Some times I rode up hills for over 30 km at a time.
I was not embarrassed to use the bus if I was tired or my toes curled. I am proud of my achievement, and I know that some on the ride were proud of me too. I think we all did very well. From the 3 of us with Parkinson's to those who were always in front, to those not to be in front, but to help others, (thanks, Leanne), to those who were 'middle' riders.
I met some fabulous new people and saw some wonderful places.
The accommodation and food were adequate to good, I certainly didn't starve, and bottled water was readily available.Our 2 guides were excellent.
But above all, I rode on this Challenge for Parkinson's. I raised in excess of $8,000, and raised awareness of Parkinson's throughout my friends and community. apparently as a group, we raised over $100,000, making it the most successful fundraiser ever.
Once`again I thank everybody for your help. From the donors, to the ticket sellers, to the people who supported me in my movie nights, to the people who helped with my garage sale, to those who hosted functions and gave the proceeds to me for my challenge, to those who kept me company and rode with me. You all know who you are. I am blessed with such fabulous friends.
Now that it's over, I may fall flat on my face. For the past 10 months I have been totally preoccupied with fundraising and getting fit. I hope that Ingrid, Claire and others will continue to take me riding; as I no longer can walk Molly as i once did, I need this form of exercise.
I suppose I will need another project to keep me busy, and I plan to revamp and improve
Whatever I do, I know that my family and friends will support me 100%. Everyone has their own problems and illnesses, or knows of others with them, so I doubly appreciate your generosity.
And my final word is to my wonderful husband, Yon (John);
Yon, you are the best husband a woman could have; kind, loving, generous. You have supported me 100% through this and all my missions since being diagnosed 6 years ago. I know that we both worry about the future, but I have taught you to live for today, and grab any opportunity that comes our way. I missed you very much this trip, and I mean it when I say that my days of travelling overseas alone are over. From now on we travel together. You are my best friend and the most compatible to travel with. We understand, trust, respect and love each other.

I'm all blogged out...



Catherine Watson

Catherine is a social worker at Parkinson's Victoria. I was worried about Catherine in November when she told me she did not have a bike, but after seeing her ride the 55 km at The Sub ride in December, I knew that youth and fitness were on her side. At 26 years old, she was the youngest member of The Challenge, but her leadership qualities were evident throughout the trip. Catherine, while having fun and taking advantage of every opportunity to see as much of Vietnam as possible, often took on the role of leader, making excellent decisions and suggestions to the group. She was fun to be with, and is a real asset to Parkinson's Victoria!

Fred and Chris Van Ross

I have mentioned Fred and Chris before. They are the ones who inspired me to do this Challenge, and helped me prepare for the ride, get this blog going, and provided support during the ride. The 3 of us often found ourselves down the back together, and urged each other on. We encouraged each other, kept each other company on the bus, and were proud of each other's achievements. Thanks for coming; it would have been lonely at the end of the line without you!

Siem Reap

That night the 4 of us went to a traditional Cambodian show. Beautiful women in traditional dress used their hands and feet to tell stories, whilst the men, often depicted as villains or farm boys, used broader steps, We were astounded to see that when the cast took it's final bow, people from the audience came on stage to stand among them to have their photos taken! Look carefully between the performers on the right.

One other thing that I must mention, is our trip to "Dr Fish". We found a modern tiled huge round bath, with lots of little fish swimming around. The sign to attract us was hilarious; promising us all sorts of funny things. Max and I decided to try it out, and for $3, we had the privilege of having lots of fish come up to our toes and nibble off the dead skin! We started off by laughing and giggling, but eventually we got used to the tickling sensation. We were assured the fish were not piranhas, and were glad to see, when we got out, that our feet were in tact; cleaner, and exfoliated!

Claire Eizenberg

Claire decided to come along on The Challenge, simply because riding around Vietnam on a bicycle was something she always wanted to do. I went to school with her husband, Peter, and one day when I was telling him of my plans, he remarked, "That sounds just like what Claire wants to do!" It was great for me to have someone so close going; The Eizenberg's live only a couple of streets away, and are both keen riders, so I enjoyed many rides with them leading up to the ride. Peter would have loved to come, but family matters kept him home.
Claire's vocation as a doctor was appreciated throughout the trip, as people sought all sort of medical advice. She received the award on the last day as the most organized person. Her suitcase was crammed with food and medicines 'just in case', as well as a variety of handy gadgets. When we rode into Quang Ngi, it was Claire's flashing helmet that saved the day, or should I say, night! Claire's knowledge of Parkinson's was expanded on the trip by talking and observing the 3 people with it, and reading the GP handbook that Catherine had brought along from Parkinson's Victoria.
I am very glad that Claire came on this trip. I didn't know her very well before, but after living together and sharing a room with her, we have learnt a lot about each other, and look forward to riding in the future.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Floating Village

On our last day, were all "templed out", so we took a completely different tour; a boat to ride through the world's largest floating village. On the way, we saw a stationary village on stilts, where the houses are lifted and raised during the rainy season, by adding one more layer of scaffolding.
During the Monsoon months the Tonle Sap ( or Great Lake) is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. There are approximately 3,000 people that actually live on this lake. It is completely self sufficient, with schools, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, even a church, all floating amongst the homes in the lake. People live on their boats all year, and when the monsoons come, they all move to another spot; the entire community disappears and relocate.
These people, I gather from what our guide told us, are similar to the 'boat people' here... they are mainly Vietnamese who escaped from Vietnam from about 1978, across the border. These people are now misplaced, with no identity. Their children are not recognised as Cambodian, and have little prospect of ever getting off the water. However, what we saw were happy people, waving, welcoming us, always smiling.
We meandered around the boats in a speed boat, and saw gardens floating with herbs, pigs in a floating pen, and waved to children in their floating school.
We boarded a 'shop' (right), where we were treated to a preview of monsoonal rains; it pelted down for the first time in the trip; which we found most welcome after the humidity. There were no walls on this shop; plastic covers protected clothing for sale, otherwise everything got wet. One elderly lady there, looked so happy to see us; she showed us her chipped nail polish on her toes and fingers, and hugged us. (left).

Janice Mulchinock

Janice was originally the 'wild card' of our group; she raised her money for The White Lions, who help disadvantaged youth. When her trip fell through, we were asked if she could come with us. Janice fit in like a glove, and is now VERY more aware of Parkinson's!
Her continuous laughter kept spirits up, her fitness is legendary, and her good sense of humour was to be admired. Above is Janice with a snake around her neck in Cambodia.
Janice, we are all glad you joined us, you enriched our group, and lifted many spirits.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Finally we came to Angkor Wat, the main reason for my coming to Cambodia. We were now down to just four people; Max, Claire, Janice and me. Catherine and Nic were going on their own. Many on our biking tour had never heard of it, but having taught in a Springvale Primary School. (hi, all my readers at Heatherhill PS!), I had heard quite a bit about it.

We were met by our new guide, Him (pronounced "Herm"), who spoke excellent english and was full of knowledge.

Angkor was built in the 12th century as Cambodia's ancient capital, one of the man-made wonders of the world. The sheer size of the place is astounding, with it's two structures separated by a long path. The walls loom up 669ft to amazing roofing structures and towers, and tell stories of battles and love and deception. Researchers believe it represents Mt. Meru, home of the Hindu gods, but now it is used for Buddhist worship. The bas relief walls are intricately carved out of sandstone, and easy to follow the story. Much of it is in it's original glory, but a lot of restoration is being done. There are moats, pools, steps, even a library, and I kept asking the guide, "are you sure no one lived here?" I was assured that this was simply a temple, a place of worship, not a palace.
We spent two hours exploring Angkor Wat, hearing the history, and marvelling at the architecture, but the heat was getting to us, so we finally went back to our hotel.

Sue Dutton and Kim Harris

Our girls from Leongatha have been a breath of fresh air, signing up early for The Challenge. Both girls work in the allied health industry; Kim is a social worker, and Sue is a nurse. So both have had lots to do with Parkinson's patients. They were good friends already, and enjoyed biking together. Kim is affiliated with The Gippsland Support Group, who supported her for the Challenge, and wanted someone to go.
Both girls are grateful to the South Gippsland, Moe and Warragul Support Groups.
They were a load of fun, great riders, and the 2nd half of the "HA HA" girls.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon

It was dark when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City; not surprising, considering it was 5.30 am!
I will refer to this city as Saigon. We discovered that most living in the city referred to it as Saigon, whilst those in the rest of Vietnam called it "Ho Chi Minh", after their great and revered leader. It was officially renamed in 1975, after Saigon fell to the North, and Vietnam became unified.
Anyway, the humidity of the city was almost unbearable. Fortunately we had a lovely air conditioned room at a hotel just 50 meters from the market.
After breakfast, the group went on a City Highlights Tour, seeing such buildings as The Opera House and Town Hall.
This Tour ended at The War Museum, which chronicled the Vietnam War. Graphic photographs and documents told us, room by room, of the horrors of The Vietnam War, and America's part in it. It was graphic and confronting; similar to The Holocaust Museums; an experience one has to have, so that history may not repeat itself.
The rest of the day was free, so after a rest, Claire and I set out to do some shopping. Ronnie wanted some DVDs, so we asked where to get some at reception. We were, of course, back in a busy city; Vietnam's biggest, so back to traffic even worse than Hanoi. Our quest involved crossing many roads, but by now we were seasoned tourists; we just sucked in our breath, and walked straight ahead. (no pausing!) As usual, the cars, bikes and motor bikes merged around us. We have concluded that crazy as the traffic seems, the Vietnamese are good drivers. And we never witnessed any road rage.
Finally we found our shop, which ended up being comparable to a large Dick Smith store. It was two floors of the latest electrical equipment, and was packed with Vietnamese perusing cameras, DVD player, telephones, etc. We wondered whatever happened to Capitalism, the official ruling party. Here, like everywhere in The World, people vie to own the latest in technology.
We stopped at a REAL coffee place, and had a pastry. Did you ever wonder why there are so many Vietnamese bakeries here? It's because The French occupied Vietnam between 1885 and 1946. Their presence is still evident by some architecture and bakeries!
The DVDs were found at the market, only 50 meters from our hotel, but we had to rest in our cool room and then go out again... the heat was oppressive.
Time was running out; we had to be dressed and be ready for our 'Farewell Dinner'; yes, this was to be our last night together.
We were taken to a lovely restaurant, where we had a private room, and the best meal of the trip. It was beautifully presented, tasty, and our vegetarian menu reflected the other meals, without seafood or meat; most other restaurants had just given us plates of veggies.
Catherine and Hilly surprised us by giving out awards.
Max and I shared a 'silver medal' for our persistence.
Whilst most of the group had the next day to rest and shop in Saigon, 5 of us were leaving in the morning for Cambodia, so my mind was racing. (as usual). So I planned the following morning as follows;
6.00 am rise and shine, shower and pack.
7.00 am breakfast at hotel restaurant.
7.45 am hit the market, shop for 45 minutes
8.30 am back to hotel, take bags downstairs
8.45 am say goodbye to everyone, and board the bus for the airport.

All went to plan, with a quick dash around the market to buy t-shirts, tablecloths and a few souvenirs.
I have bought very little here, and not used my credit card once.

So it was "bye" to the group; hopefully we will have a reunion soon, and off we went for more adventures; in neighboring Cambodia....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jenny Young and Helen Bignell

These bright, energetic, fun, fit girls added sparkle and competition to The Challenge. Both were later entrants into The Challenge. Jenny came in late 2007, but Helen joined us with only weeks to go. The girls are keen riders, often rising at 5.30 am and setting off for long and grueling kms. They are certainly fit! Strangely enough, it was Helen's brother, Ted, who was meant to go with us. Ted is undergoing DBS very soon, so he and his mate David dropped out.
These are the two original "HA HA" girls. They know how to pose for a perfect shot by saying "HA HA"! They were very entertaining on both train trips, where they teamed up with the Leongatha girls. They can drink lots, and STILL ride for km the next day!

Nha Trang

Ahhhhh! A free day at last. We bussed into the beach resort Nha Trang in the dark, noting the buzz of construction taking place by many big hotel chains on prime real estate beach property. Whilst the others had another set dinner, this time at a BBQ restaurant, I opted for a night on my own.
A word on the food here; Claire and I, who both decided to eat vegetarian, (More for religious reasons than health reasons...), thought we might starve, so I brought a few snacks, and Claire brought a suitcase of tuna, nuts, muesli bars and corn. However, we had no trouble finding vegetarian food here. Hilly made sure we always had enough to eat when there was a set menu, and we ate VERY well. Anyway, by now I was a little tired of veggies and rice, and my tummy was a bit queasy from the bus ride, and the thought of cooking some strange fish on a bbq with the meat, along with the sight of the squid etc, made me nauseous, but I managed to find a pizza! Just a vegetarian pizza, but gee, it tasted good. Chocoholics found Tim Tams and M & Ms, so all were happy.
The day was well anticipated by all. Daryl, (my son), had visited Nha Trang last year whilst cruising The World as a fitness instructor, and he recommended a resort called "The Louisiane Brewhouse." so Claire, Leanne, Nahid Jenny and Helen and I braved crossing the road and found it..perfect for what we wanted. We had a fabulous 1 and 1/2 hr massage for $18, had drinks by the pool, and for $2.50 could stay and use all pool facilities. others went Island hopping, or to mud baths.

At 6.15 pm, we were at Nha Trang Station, ready to catch our second overnight train; this time to Saigon. You may remember the train from Hanoi was not too pleasant, so we were wary, but this train was much cleaner and better. There was even a decent toilet! The HA HA girls shared their drinks with whoever was still up, taking photos and telling stories, and so the night passed, and we arrived in Saigon at 5.30 am.